Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Murdoch's Wife Hires New Lawyer in Divorce ; Attorney Is Known for Representing Women in High-Profile Breakups

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Murdoch's Wife Hires New Lawyer in Divorce ; Attorney Is Known for Representing Women in High-Profile Breakups

Article excerpt

Mrs. Murdoch has hired William D. Zabel, a well-known New York trusts and estates lawyer who has represented several women in their divorces from wealthy businessmen.

Just over a month after Rupert Murdoch surprised his wife of 14 years with divorce papers, Wendi Murdoch has switched lawyers, a move signaling that the separation could take an acrimonious turn.

Mrs. Murdoch has hired William D. Zabel, a well-known New York trust and estate lawyer who has represented several women in their divorces from wealthy businessmen, including Jane Beasley Welch during her contentious split from John F. Welch, the former chief executive of General Electric.

A spokesman for Mrs. Murdoch, Christopher Giglio, confirmed the hiring of Mr. Zabel but otherwise declined to comment.

Mrs. Murdoch had been represented by Pamela M. Sloan, who advised Mrs. Murdoch on her prenuptial agreement with Mr. Murdoch in 1999, when the couple married in front of 82 guests on board his 155- foot, or 47-meter, sailing yacht, the Morning Glory.

But since then, Ms. Sloan had become friendly with the Murdochs, and Mrs. Murdoch decided that she wanted more independent counsel, said a person with direct knowledge of the case who like many people declined to be identified discussing personal matters.

Ms. Sloan did not return a request for comment.

Although the Murdochs signed a prenuptial agreement and two postnuptial agreements delineating the separation of assets in the event of a divorce, there are a number of areas that remain up for negotiation, said people with knowledge of the case who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

For one, there are the custody arrangements and child support for their daughters, Grace, 11, and Chloe, 9, these people said. Because they are not binding on the court, custody arrangements and child support are rarely part of prenuptial agreements and are often used by the less-moneyed spouse as leverage in negotiations.

Other issues that could be contended include the division of certain assets, like their Fifth Avenue penthouse and the yacht, on which Mrs. Murdoch, 44, and her daughters are currently vacationing in the Caribbean.

There is also the contentious issue surrounding the Murdoch family trust. Mr. Murdoch surprised his wife in 2006 when he announced during a television interview with Charlie Rose that Grace and Chloe would have the same economic interest in the family's trust but not the same voting rights as his four children from his previous two marriages.

The slip almost created a separation, and it prompted Mrs. Murdoch to negotiate more favorable terms for her daughters, according to people close to the couple.

Mr. Zabel, an expert in trust law, is expected to examine the soundness of the trust structure.

"Even with the most sophisticated couple, unless you have perfect 20/20 foresight, often some issues can arise that weren't taken into consideration and are prime for negotiation," said Paul M. …

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